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No. 10 Tar Heels drop another ACC road game

North Carolina’s Joel Berry and Theo Pinson talk about the Tar Heels’ loss at Virginia Tech

The Tar Heels are 1-3 on the road this ACC season after the loss to the Hokies on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia.
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The Tar Heels are 1-3 on the road this ACC season after the loss to the Hokies on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The road has not been kind to North Carolina in ACC play this season.

Crossing the border into Virginia, in particular, has been an issue for the Tar Heels, who lost 80-69 at Virginia Tech on Monday night.

No. 10 UNC (16-5, 5-3 ACC) lost for the third time in four ACC road games and for the second time in Virginia.

The Cavaliers dumped the Heels 61-49 on Jan. 6. This loss was just a sped-up version. Same state, same result, some effort and intensity problems for UNC.

“I feel the same way right now I felt the last time I was in Virginia,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “University of Virginia kicked our rear ends and I felt like that tonight.”

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams reacts to a turnover by his team during the first half against Virginia Tech on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Heels, 4-0 at the Smith Center, have figured out how to play at home. At least they have with more balance and aggressiveness.

On the road? That’s a different story.

UNC has also lost at Florida State (81-80) and its only road win was by a point (69-68) to a Notre Dame team without its two best players.

The Heels got 23 points each from junior forward Luke Maye and Joel Berry but little else from the rest of the roster.

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North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) puts up a shot against Virginia’s Tech’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. (24) during the second half on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. Maye scored 23 points in the Tar Heels’ loss. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

And defensively they couldn’t keep up with a hungry Virginia Tech trying to get back on track for a return to the NCAA tournament.

Guards Justin Robinson (19 points) and Ahmed Hill (18 points) were too much for UNC to contain. The Hokies (14-6, 3-4) even out-rebounded the Heels, 36-35.

“If any team out-rebounds us, we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do,” Berry said.

You could chalk it up to an uncharacteristic effort from the Heels against a desperate team. But the road struggles are becoming a pattern at this point.

Not enough balance on offense or aggression on defense, it’s certainly not at the same level as the Heels have shown at the Smith Center.

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North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (2) drives against Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. (24) during the second half on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“They were more aggressive,” Williams said. “They were into it more. I thought their sense of urgency was much greater than ours.”

Virginia Tech, which made the NCAA tournament for the first time under coach Buzz Williams last season, had entered this game already with ACC home losses to Florida State and Virginia.

Even more troubling, the Hokies had lost all five of their games against the RPI top 50 before Monday. Their first win over UNC, No. 3 in the RPI, since 2010 should help their cause.

“They just came out like they needed that win tonight,” Berry said.

UNC did not match Virginia Tech’s intensity, much in the same way it had lapses in effort at FSU, Virginia and Notre Dame.

“We have to continue to push and not just come out the first few minutes and give it our all and then it eventually dies down,” Berry said.

The Heels were running hot early with Maye scoring 10 of their first 15 points and helping them climb out to a 30-24 lead after 15 minutes.

Then Robinson led a 15-2 run to close the half which the Hokies used to take control of the game. Hill scored seven straight points in one stretch of the second half as Virginia Tech’s lead grew to 68-54 at 6:25.

With only Maye and Berry in double digits, the Heels couldn’t make a dent into the margin.

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Virginia Tech fans storm the court to celebrate their 80-69 victory over North Carolina on Monday, January 22, 2018 at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Theo Pinson had a game-high eight assists but only took two shots and scored four points. Kenny Williams had as many points (four) as fouls. Cam Johnson struggled with his shot (1 of 9).

Maye and Berry combined to make 19 of their 35 shots. The rest of the team was a combined 8 of 28.

“We have to get back to work,” Pinson said.

And figure out a way to bring their show on the road.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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